Monday, March 26, 2012

Benfica-Chelsea tactical preview

Benfica and Chelsea meet up tomorrow for the first leg of the quarter-finals of the Champions League, in what could turn out to be a very interesting, unpredictable tie. Below we present a few reasons that might explain why one of the teams will go through.

3 reasons why Chelsea will defeat Benfica

1) Resilience. If the match against Napoli taught us anything, it was that this team are not as bad as most people seem to think and that there is still something left in their tanks. Chelsea core players are victors from other battles who can muster their fading strengths when necessary – and the matches against Valencia and Napoli should be a sound warning to Benfica.

2) A tendency to attack down the middle. Despite Roberto Di Matteo’s recent (slight) change of mind, Sturridge is usually stationed on the right and drifts inward (or on the left, where he is clearly less effective). Mata, usually starting on the left, is also prone to search central areas, and Drogba is a competitive monster who thrives on long balls – Chelsea’s preferential route of late. Given that Benfica tend to leave their centre almost exclusively to Javi García, this could be a good option for the Londoners.

3) A more compact midfield. If Chelsea attack down the centre, it’s also true that they defend better in that area, as well. While distant from his former self, Essien is increasingly closer to his physical levels of yesteryear. Lampard, in turn, sits further back than he used to, but he is still capable of providing long, diagonal balls over the top, to which Benfica are sometimes vulnerable.

3 reasons why Benfica will defeat Chelsea

1) Attacking movement. Benfica is all about going for the jugular, even when it might not prove the best for them. In that, Gaitán, Bruno César, Nolito and Maxi Pereira excel at overloading the wings and penetrate in one-two moves. Even though some at Chelsea still remember how to defend properly, Benfica’s fluidity might just be too much.

2) Chelsea’s man-marking. The blues’ preferential option for dealing with defensive set pieces is man-marking, which could play right into the Eagles’ hands. Jesus’ obsession with offensive set pieces may prove decisive to break the deadlock.

3) Quick transitions into offence. One of Benfica’s main attributes is their vertical speed, i.e. the pace at which they can turn a defensive situation into a clear scoring chance for themselves. Conversely, this is one of the Londoners' weakest spots, because Mata and Sturridge often turn off during their defensive duties, and only Ramires tracks back. With Maxi, Witsel and Gaitán, to name but a few, Benfica ‘s pace might just do the trick.

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